Ray Johnson - A Zapatista in Greenwich by Luther Blissett
There is a best-selling book written in Italian by "Luther Blissett" which put into circulation a metropolitan legend on Ray Johnson and his involvement in the "Luther Blissett" international multiple name project. The name of the book is "Mind Invaders. How to Fuck [with] the Media", it was published in November 1995 and sold out before the end of December. Its publisher, Rome-based Castelvecchi Edizioni, immediately reprinted it .
It appears that MI was projected to comply with a Vittore Baroni's directive (on "Arte Postale! # 69", Springtime 1995) which more or less sounded like "Create your works of Ray Johnson...Keep alive and visible the legends of the virtual Rays...scare the shit out of the exploiters of posthumous glory". It seems that those who were using and sharing the name "Luther Blissett" since the beginning of 1994 (nobody knows who launched this project, there's a lot of myths flying around it) decided then to insert Ray Johnson in the pantheon of the "imaginary founders". Before and after the publication of MI, they spread contradictory rumours which were amplificated and hyped by newspapers and magazines; the name of Ray began to appear in the articles which described the pranks, sabotages, psychogeographical explorations, performances, exhibitions, videos and radio shows set up in Italy by people adopting the name. MI carried the whole thing farther by ascribing to Johnson some of the key Blissett's texts available on alternative Italian BBSs (actually written both by British and Italian psychogeographers) and heavily whinging on some sort of CIA-masonic conspiracy aimed at killing him (a chapter even reports a rumour that he was a Fifth Column of the EZLN in the US!). Of course the gulls - as well as the disguised LBs - in the Italian press started echoing this legend, although the prologue and many paragraphs outspokenly warned the readers that they were expected in turn to re-manipulate the "networking myth" in order to create a sensational buzz which would help to make the most of "invisibility" and "effectiveness" of the "actual" LBs. Belief is the enemy!
However, something was true (...maybe), as revealed by a more prosaic account of the contraybution: I was told that a few years ago Johnson received from an Italian corrayspondent (most probably Ruggero Maggi) a press cutting which mentioned him. On the reverse there was a piece on the national soccer's league (actually we call it "football"..."Soccer" is the American word) containing the sentence: "Even Luther Blissett would have score such a goal!". A brief explanation is required: Luther Blissett was a British soccer player who retired in the late Eighties. He used to play in the Watford Football Club, whose owner and president was... Elton John. In 1983 the Milan Football Club signed on him, thus he moved to Italy. Unfortunately he never got used to the Italian league, one year later the club sent him back to the UK. He's remembered as a proverbial washout.
In a very short letter to Vittore Baroni (or maybe to the aforementioned Maggi), Johnson dropped the line: "By the way, who is Luther Blissett?". The receiver (whoever he was) suddenly remembered the calamitous footballer, and started laughing. In a letter he diverted the question to Stewart Home of the Neoist Alliance. On February 15th 1994, after having answered that the reputation of Blissett was more good in England than in Italy (in the 1982-83 championship he scored 27 goals!), Stewart Home joined his fellows of the London Psychogeographical Association for a planned psychogeograpical "drift" in Greenwich. There the party found... Blissett Street. In the following days the LPA discovered that it was named after Rev. George Blissett, a Victorian do-gooder. "Luther Blissett" went to London as a funny story and came back as an infectious multiple name.
To sum up, Ray Johnson was such a contagious artist that even his "by-the-ways" and incidental remarks were viable for the culture jamming guerilla! At the best he's been a half-conscious originator of the project! At the worst, he never got to know what monster he had given birth to.
After M.I., the legends moved to other countries via E-mail, ended up on some 'zines (e.g. P.O.Box, recently issued in Barcelona, Spain) and bifurcated again. The recent increase in the use and circulation of the LB's name in America (see the "Luther Blissett Display" at the San Diego Sociometry Fair '96, puzzling graffiti appeared in Baltimore, unexpected "virtual" performances in Albany, strange messages received by the Salt Lake Masonic Lodge, as well as many mail art projects and exhibitions) will probably sprayd other local varayants of the story, strayking with subversive delight the geograyphical heart of Ray's life and gloray. I think I'll give up these fuckin' puns, they're boraying me!
Isn't this one of the best tributes to an artist who skillfully mastered the codes of networking culture, of pop mythologies and even of coincidence of names?
(This article has been sent to us by Tartarugo from Spain in 1996)
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